Some Brief Comments on Accelerationism

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The phenomenon of accelerationism has haunted segments of Marxist theory/practice since the crystallization of Marxism itself in the late 19th century. Unfortunately, this misguided theory has reared its head again during the current presidential election as revolutionaries grapple with what the proper role of communists is in relation to the bourgeois electoral sideshow. While the phenomenon of communists considering support of Cruz, Trump, or any other reactionary candidate is an isolated one, accelerationist ideas seem attractive to those who dismiss the idea of the need for a Party, lack an analysis of past revolutions, and see spontaneous uprisings as the nexus for revolution. However, the idea of accelerationism is no mere theoretical blunder, it has dangerous political consequences as well.

In the simplest terms, accelerationism states that revolutionaries should support the most reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie in order to further increase the immiseration and exploitation of the working-class, which, according to this logic, will then spark a revolt by the masses as their conditions become unbearable, culminating in the capture of state power by the working-class. This view is simplistic and naive, however, let’s examine a few of its foundational assumptions, which if shown to be false should collapse the theory/practice of accelerationism.

The primary assumption of this theory is that material conditions directly determine consciousness. This is tantamount to lopping off an arm of Marxist materialism. Marxist materialism is necessarily dialectical, while the accelerationist conception of Marxist materialism is mechanistic. The key difference being that Marxism ( i.e. dialectical materialism), recognizes the interrelationship between a social formation’s base (the social relations between classes, the productive forces: land, means of production, technological development, and labor-power’s collective skill and knowledge) and its superstructure (legal system, ideology, education, politics, religion etc.) in the formation of people’s social and class consciousness. In the dialectical materialist view, while the base is determinant in the last instance, it is not a one way street, and often the superstructural aspects of a social formation can transform elements of the base, as occurred during the Cultural Revolution. Accelerationist theory is mechanical, and therefore not dialectical, in that it assumes that the base is determinant absolutely when determining people’s social and class consciousness. The superstructure is irrelevant in the accelerationist view, which means the rejection of politics, ironically negating the possibility of actual revolutionary class struggle which is necessarily political. Let us recall Lenin’s statement on the relationship between economics and politics.

I said again in my speech that politics is a concentrated expression of economics, because I had earlier heard my “political” approach rebuked in a manner which is inconsistent and inadmissible for a Marxist. Politics must take precedence over economics. To argue otherwise is to forget the ABC of Marxism. – Once Again on the Trade Union Question: The Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Bukharin, 1921.

It is this reason that accelerationism is economistic, meaning that it cannot rise above a purely economic struggle, which therefore cannot transform itself into a country-wide struggle for the assumption of political power by the working-class. The accelerationist says that the political struggle is inconsequential because all that is required for a revolution to break out is a sufficient breakdown of the working-class’s organizations (unions, parties, publishing apparatuses etc.), and a further decline of wages and standards of living, combined with an intensification of state violence against oppressed peoples and the working-class. Therefore, the accelerationist eschews the collective political struggle of the proletariat, except when intervening in the bourgeois electoral circus to cast their vote for the most reactionary representative of the bourgeoisie to disarm and push down the working-class!

What an accelerationist probably sees when looking at a Trump hat.

Furthermore, we must clarify the difference between objective conditions and subjective conditions, on which revolution depends. The objective conditions are the given state of economic development (level of centralization of the means of production, presence of large-scale social labor, state of the contradiction between productive forces and relations of production etc.) while the subjective conditions are the level of class-consciousness of the working-class (formation of a revolutionary Party, recognition of the collective need for communism, working-class press, union formation etc.). The accelerationist view overemphasizes the objective conditions while completely ignoring the subjective conditions necessary for revolution. Simply put, a singular focus of the objective situation says nothing about the actual logistics of revolution (how can it when it says nothing about the overall development of class-consciousness which recognizes the need for revolution and the path to make it?) and is therefore non-revolutionary, despite being cloaked in ultra-left phraseology.

This position also, however consciously or unconsciously, adopts the viewpoint of bourgeois ideology in its assumption that some types of capitalism are worse for the working-class and oppressed peoples than others. From a Marxist viewpoint we know that capitalism, whether neoliberal, social-democratic, or fascist, means the exploitation of the working-class and the class rule of the bourgeoisie. The accelerationist view, in an attempt to be “more revolutionary than thou”, confuses form for content in that it views an aggressive neoliberal capitalism as qualitatively different than fascism or social-democracy when these are merely different forms of rule by the bourgeoisie. The accelerationist would say that neoliberalism, or even fascism, would push the working-class closer to revolution because of the quantitative difference caused by both in the breakdown and suppression of working-class activity. However, a quick examination of the history of the working-class movement, something the accelerationists are wont to do, will prove this logic to be faulty.

The primary assumption here is that the more gains the working-class makes, then the less revolutionary it becomes as a class. However, examining the countries of Western Europe after the Second World War, and the class struggles that unfolded there, we see that the opposite happened. The more that social-democratic reforms were granted the more militant the working-class movement became. Of course this observation goes back to Lenin’s comments on the progression of the February Revolution to the October Revolution in which the same phenomenon was observed.

So if the working-class becomes more revolutionary by making inroads against the bourgeoisie through mass struggle, then what about the theory of an increase in poverty or reaction leading to revolution? Here let’s take as a case study a simple historical example, the position of the Communist Party of Germany in the early 1930s in relation to the Nazis assuming power. This was during the so-called “Third Period” of the Comintern (“Communist International”, an international organization of communist parties) in which the collapse of capitalism was thought to be imminent due to the global depression. This led to erroneous conclusions which were then pushed by the collective leadership of the Comintern on member parties, such as the German Communist Party. As the popularity of the Nazis and their renegade violence against the people increased, the German Communist Party, embracing the “theory” of social-fascism refused to form a united front with the Social-Democratic Party of Germany to counter growing Nazi influence. Of course this provided an electoral and political split on the Left, which the Nazis capitalized on to gain significant electoral and political ground. The German Communist Party was under the assumption that Hitler’s policies would irreparably damage the German economy to the point that dissatisfaction and unrest would be so high that the Communist Party could easily assume power. This was rather blatantly stated through the Communist Party’s slogan during the early ’30s of “After Hitler, Us!” By 1933, with the Nazis in power, the Communist Party was banned and their slogan was proven to be nothing more than an incorrect and disastrous pipe dream.

Even worse is the fact that ceding ground to the bourgeoisie means ceding ground to the influence of bourgeois ideology within the working-class, which is constantly reproduced by the ideological state apparatus in bourgeois society. Without a revolutionary Party and a true adoption of proletarian ideology as counter-hegemonic measures, the masses are left to the influence of bourgeois ideology, which does not, and cannot, produce correct assessments of capitalist society, nor proletarian revolution. More dangerous, is the fact that this can lead, not to an embrace of the need for revolution, but to an embrace of reactionary ideologies by the masses, like fascism. Let’s not forget that a prominent part of the social base of the fascists in Italy and Germany was among the proletariat!

Pictorial representation of accelerationism in action.

As we can see historically, crises of capitalism do not directly lead to a mass increase of class consciousness or social revolution. These crises often lead to a greater concentration of capital and means of production in fewer hands, the cutting of social services, dissatisfaction spreading amongst the people leading them towards reactionary ideologies, and re-privatization of industries/resources. Furthermore, it treats the masses as an amorphous blob that will blindly follow or rise up with no need for politicization or an embrace of communist consciousness. Realistically, how could so-called revolutionaries advocate openly for the triumph of reaction and violence against the masses, and then turn around and tell the masses to follow them? The idea is absurd and the practice is dangerous and should be criticized and isolated. The theory/practice of accelerationism is the result of a deterministic view of Marxism, but more importantly, it is a tactic and outlook that is hostile to actually carrying out a proletarian revolution.

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5 thoughts on “Some Brief Comments on Accelerationism

  1. Saw this come up on my twitter feed and it looked interesting, but some thoughts:

    1) The kind of accelerationism that is prominent now, popularized by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, does not openly advocate endorsing forces of reaction as part of its accelerationist praxis. It still shares some of the same core logic, and it plays with theories of openly right accelerationists (like Land and the “Dark Enlightenment” folks), but it definitely does not advocate this way of doing things. What it is does advocate is just accelerating the forces of production rather than resisting. It’s cynical do-nothingism wrapped up with hopeful and bombastic language.

    2) It’s not about privileging the base over the superstructure. The base (if we must keep to this metaphor which of course is useful for some things) is defined by both productive forces and productive relations. The problem with accelerationism is it’s privileging only one part of the “base” – ignoring the relations that determine the productive forces (i.e. class struggle) – rather than the base over the superstructure. What it is, precisely, is just the old productive forces deviation but a pretty extreme (and again cynical) version of it. In many ways today’s “post-capitalist” accelerationism is just a fancier written version of people on the internet talking about how social networking technologies and 3-D printers will make revolution.

    3) Benjamin Noys’ *Malign Velocities* [which I think you can find as a PDF online] is a thorough critique of contemporary accelerationism that both demarcates it from the old kind and draws out similarities. I also wrote a pretty thorough critique of it, connecting it with certain radical nihilist tendencies, on a bloody long document I put out on my website a while back, but not gonna link spam.

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    1. Hey, JMP.

      As to your first point, this post arose as a statement against a certain accelerationist trend that had emerged amongst a few comrades within my own organization. Consequently, what I was attempting to grapple with here was that trend specifically, rather than the currently “popular” trends of Williams and Srnicek.

      Regarding your second point, I agree that I was a bit too broad in claiming that accelerationism privileges the entire base, rather than just the productive forces. Honestly, the scope and purpose of this article couldn’t cover the differing approaches (productive forces theories vs. production relations theories). However, I have a post in the works providing an overview of both, as well as detailing their political implications. In hindsight that post should have come first, however, there was a political need to post this piece now.

      I haven’t read Noys’ work, but I will definitely look into it, as well as reading your critique. I appreciate your comments here. Keep up the great work on MLM Mayhem!

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      1. Old school accelerationism showing up in your org? Wow, that’s a throwback! Still, I think it might be worth making that clear in your second post because the current fad of accelerationism is gaining ground and gaining theoretical ground so that you get Srnicek talking at official Verso book launches because he’s cited by Jodi Dean in her new book (which is doubly odd since her new book is actually about the necessity of the communist party). Granted it’s mainly petty-b types that are drawn to it, but these are also the people that influence knowledge production.

        Have you looked at Land’s work on accelerationism? I think it is very useful to examine because his kind of accelerationism is completely logic and exactly what any kind of accelerationism would really look like – kind of what you imply in this post. He’s a reactionary who argues that accelerating the forces of production will result in a return to some Hobbesian state that in his mind is a good thing.

        Look forward to the next post.

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    2. I will definitely delve into Srnicek’s arguments in my upcoming post. As far as Land’s work, I have not read it, however, I will do so in preparation for the forthcoming post. I’m sure it will be an interesting read, to say the least. Again, thanks for leaving your thoughts here, it’s much appreciated!

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